Universal basic everything ⊗ Managing Abyss Gaze ⊗ The end of efficiency — No.129

This week → Universal basic everything ⊗ Managing Abyss Gaze in a time of difficult futures ⊗ The end of efficiency ⊗ The deepening paradox ⊗ On the rise of dark stores and “multifunctional retail”

A year ago → Not Relevant for Fantasy Purposes.

Like in the early days of the pandemic, the news this week has been a flood of information and disturbing actions around one topic, this time of course around George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. As with the virus, I’ll thread lightly this week and see what I can trust and feel solid in sharing over the next few weeks. In the mean time, you can find a few links just before the Asides lower in this issue.

From my standpoint, “playing life” at difficulty level zero as I am (white cis man in a rich country), this feels a bit like Gamergate and them #Metoo some years back. Understanding enough to stand with the people being disenfranchised and attacked, but so, so far from understanding as deeply as I should. Wake up call to not only be on the right side but also do better and do more.

Small ask: when lists of people to follow come out around events like this, they often recommend folx who talk about the issue being addressed. If you know more diverse voices working in the topics I write about here, I would be very grateful for tips.


Universal Basic Everything

Tessy Britton on their work in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham over the last few years, exploring commons thinking, Raworth’s doughnut framework, micro-infrastructures, and a platform co-operative at neighbourhood scale. Adjacent to Fab City thinking but (it seems to me) much more focused on a small community, inclusion, and commons first. Pay attention to the contrast Britton makes between large universal services (healthcare for ex.), and the more bottom up “universal basic infrastructures for peer-to-peer participation.” Thinking of an economy of layers, instead of one of segments is also intriguing.

This framework highlights how our economies operate right now, not meeting basic human needs, while at the same time overshooting the nine ecological ceilings. […]

[T]he creation of essentials might fit into the doughnut framework — creating more layers to include co-created, open source, simple, circular products and services. […]

Open source and creative commons moves us significantly in the right direction. From open sharing of ideas we can start to think of ideas, services, systems, products and activities which might be essential or basic for sustaining life within the ecological ceiling, whilst also re-inforcing social foundations. […]

We are currently working on building a platform co-operative for making simple circular products. Over the last 18 months we have worked with local residents to develop a set of ‘collaborative brands’. Several of these have been moving towards this idea of circular, simple, universal.

Adjacent → Sacred civics, Valuing what matters in cities.

Managing Abyss Gaze In a Time of Difficult Futures

Although focused on practitioners in the fields of research, strategy, forecasting, and similar, I think this piece by Scott Smith offers valuable recommendations for anyone having to pay a lot of attention to what’s coming, something most readers here likely have / want to do. Smith proposes things like balancing the load with a network (I’m not doing enough of that), finding new voices, maintaining some distance from the data, skipping the rabbit holes, and looking up once in a while.

Your goal is not to imbibe all the information available and give yourself a data hangover, it’s to develop and improve your ability to taste the important (and relevant) notes. This ability to scan at arm’s length takes on new importance when the news itself becomes difficult to digest. […]

Networking a group with diverse interests, tolerances, knowledge of industry dialects and players, and strategically spread across time zones can work together to keep their eyes on the landscape, and save any one person from burning out on breadth, depth, and span of material. […]

Since the pandemic struck, we’ve found connecting broader networks of curious minds to be more effective. WhatsApp groups, various Slacks, and Discord instances have been useful, as they provide space for discussion of various stories and signals, and debate about emerging narratives. […]

[S]mart contrarians not seeking to be edgelords but intelligently challenge conventional wisdom, and most definitely people not like us who can share their analysis of the world from a different position. […]

Keeping a constant check on the filter bubble is critical, and this churn of insights is incredibly valuable in keeping our own views fresh, challenged, and informed in ways we can’t inform ourselves.

The End of Efficiency

An issue of Ana Andjelic’s newsletter on the focus on efficiency, how that’s proving brittle1, and on the five de-efficiency shifts: De-Massification, de-specialization, decentralization, improvisation, and community-fication.

[1] She doesn’t use that word specifically but does mention Cascio’s BANI framework I linked to in issue No.126 and which does start with brittle.

Longchamp, Breitling, and hand-made Japanese denim Momotaro also invest in vertically integrated, local, and self-sufficient production and make it the core pillar of their branding. […]

Best talent doesn’t define themselves through roles or specializations (like social media manager or copywriter or a PR person). They bring value to the organization through their ability to grow its business, move the wider culture, and help others do their job better. […]

Companies in the industries from fine food wholesale to restaurants to fashion retailers to bodegas are forced to improvise to keep their business going. Restrictions create new outputs, forms of working, and business models.

The Deepening Paradox

An interesting theory trying to explain The Fermi paradox (“the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and various high estimates for their probability“). SETI is essentially a search for waste products from other civilizations (heat, light, electromagnetic signals), what if we can’t see or hear them because they don’t generate waste? Maybe the reason for the Great Silence is that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Nature.”

In the Great Silence, we see the future of technology, and it lies in achieving greater and greater efficiencies, until our machines approach the thermodynamic equilibria of their environment, and our economics is replaced by an ecology where nothing is wasted. […]

[P]roducts of traditionally ‘advanced’ technological civilizations, such as Dyson spheres, should be visible to us from Earth. No comprehensive search has been done, to my knowledge, but no candidate objects have been stumbled upon in the course of normal astronomy. The Matrioshka brains, the vast computronium complexes that harvest all the resources of a stellar system… we’re just not seeing them. The evidence for that model of the future is lacking.

On the rise of dark stores and ‘multifunctional retail’

I’m always there for some hybrid skill sets, spaces, and business models. Short piece at Courier magazine on some of the promising hybrid models retail stores and restaurants have been forced to discover during lockdown, and how they are preparing to move further in those directions instead of moving back. Since delivery is a big part of it, there’s definitely a gig / zero-hour work aspect I dislike, its bad news, and will have to be considered, but those companies diversifying their offering is definitely interesting and likely more resilient.

And this time it won’t be a neighbourhood restaurant. ‘We’re hoping to find a multifunctional warehouse space, where we can prepare food, bottle cocktails and process deliveries, but also hold events and have a beautiful shop.’ […]

The Covid-19 lockdown has accelerated this trend by effectively turning many consumer-facing venues into dark stores. […]

‘Whatever happens, this has forced brands to be more agile,’ says Victoria. ‘They will be thinking even harder about their physical spaces, and what they’re for, and I think we’ll be seeing more and more nicely designed hybrid spaces.

An Onslaught of Crises Has Created a Modern Paradox

Interview at WIRED with Matthew Flinders, who’s been exploring the idea of “crisis fatigue” but I’m including it for the quote below. There’s been an ongoing debate between the rosy Gates and Pinker view that everything’s better, and many others, like Jason Hickel, on the other side arguing that the former are glossing over stats and cherry picking. Regardless of the numbers, I like the quote below as a higher level framing of that general discussion; where tangible threats are taken care of for many, while intangible threats are growing and worsening.

If you’re fearful of wild animals circling your tent, at the very least you know what you need to shoot at or run from. When the fear is intangible and hanging over you, you feel trapped. And I think that sense of feeling trapped is a very powerful way of understanding how a lot of people feel today. They feel trapped within the precarity of modern economic work practices. They feel trapped by environmental concerns, which are very hard to deal with from an individual perspective. They feel trapped by political systems that feel unresponsive and very remote from them.

Black Lives Matter

Asides

  • 🔓 🥦 Dispatch 08 — Digital Gardens. The latest Sentiers members’ Dispatch, unlocked for everyone.
  • We Have a Rare Opportunity to Create a Stronger, More Equitable Society. “Whereas politicians have been focusing on how to distribute an ‘economic stimulus’ plan, this debate is insufficient because it focuses only on restoring prior income. Instead, a more resilient future requires an integration of the different dimensions of inequality that are intimately connected but often ‘invisible.’”
  • 🎥 Explores the past, present and future of design brand Braun. “The conversation probed the history of German design brand Braun, its current products and its vision for the future, as well investigating how design has responded to societal upheavals in the past and how it can continue to do so.” (Via Mark Storm.)
  • 👀 📌 High-tech redlining: How AI upgrades institutional racism. “in the age of Big Data, employment, insurance, and loan applications are increasingly being evaluated by data mining models that are not as overt but may be even more pernicious than color-coded maps, because they are not limited by geographic boundaries, and because their inner workings are often hidden.” (Via Alexandra D-S.)
  • 🇩🇰 🕶 🤔 Explore the Faroe Islands Virtually Through the Eyes of a Local. “Through any mobile device, virtual visitors can control the local tour guide directing them to turn, walk or run in any direction (provided it is safe) like a video game. The locals broadcast the video stream from the camera attached to a helmet giving viewers the perspective of being there themselves.”
  • 🤬 🇷🇺 Arctic Circle Oil Spill Creates State of Emergency in Russia. “The spill resulted in 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaking into a river in the Arctic Circle. The company responsible, Norilsk Nickel, is suggesting the spill may have been caused by thawing permafrost that damaged an oil storage tank.”